Back before I went to Paris and discovered Valrhona, my favorite plain chocolate bars were Tobler's Extra Bittersweet and Lindt's Excellence - 70% Cocoa. I gave a slight edge in preference to the Tobler, but the Lindt was pretty close, and it was usually cheaper.
Then the Tobler bars disappeared from the shops. I couldn't find them anywhere. I was forced to switch to Lindt full time. Eventually, I learned that Tobler had been sold, and the new owners were working on a new US distribution deal.
When Tobler finally returned to the American marketplace. I immediately bought an EBS bar and was terribly disappointed. They'd changed the recipe.
Why buy one of the most famous brands in the chocolate business and then deliberately screw it up? It baffles and enrages me. Did they think that people who spend the extra money to buy imported Swiss chocolate wouldn't notice? Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Anyway, I never bought another Tobler bar and came to rely on Lindt. Eventually, I did go to Paris and discover Valrhona, but since I sometimes couldn't afford it, I was happy to have Lindt as a backup.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, the Eternal Girlfriend and I were in one of our favorite shops, Sahadi's on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn (http://sahadis.com/), and I happened to glance at the chocolate display. The Lindt Excellence bar had a red triangle in the upper left corner of the main part of the label. In all-caps white type it read "NEW RECIPE." I looked at her and said, "Uh, oh." But she had just bought me one of the excellent 73% Super Dark organic chocolate bars at the Trader Joe's up the street, so I didn't get one to try.
I did buy one at Target the other day (along with the Pepperidge Farm Tim Tam cookies from Australia I finally found there). On the back of the package we're told to "Experience this new milder recipe that balances smooth dark chocolate flavor with a surprisingly rich and creamy texture."
Well, I'm here to tell you that it's not terrible, but it's not nearly as good as it was. Who asked for "milder"? It's lost its distinctive character and become blander and ordinary. What is it about the chocolate business? Does working in it inevitably warp your judgment?
What they've done is add lecithin (an emulsifier) and, if I'm interpreting the Nutrition Facts box correctly, a little more cocoa butter and a pinch more sugar. Total fat per 40g serving has gone from 17g to 19g and sugars from 11g to 12g. Just as importantly, they've also reduced sodium by half, to 10g. The result is a more innocuous bar that will probably sell better to average Americans with less sophisticated palates who had the misfortune of growing up on (ugh) Hershey's or, at best, cheap Nestle's.
Of course, I'll be writing to Lindt & Sprüngli to tell them, politely, that they're idiots, but I don't expect it to do any good. I guess I'll just have to get into the habit of stocking up whenever I'm at a TJ's and try to make enough more money to occasionally treat myself to a bar of Valrhona.
As Cicero said -- though he never tasted chocolate: O Tempora! O Mores!